TImes Allies - The International Motor Racing
© Andrew S. Hartwell
The Grand American series returns to upstate New York the
weekend of May 20th, for the running of the "6 Hours of the Glen".
All the current cars and stars of today will be there to write the
history of tomorrow. Dyson Racing will again field two cars and
seek to recapture the victory so nearly taken from them last season
by a determined Oliver Gavin. And Robinson Racing will be there with their new Riley & Scott MKIIIC, a car that will look to write the first chapter of it's own history. And Kevin Doran will be there with a car that is all that is good to remember about the history of sportscar racing. That car is the Ferrari 333SP, a car that wrote at least a few lines of history at the Glen circuit.
And while the cars and stars of the Grand Am are ample reason enough to visit this tranquil village at the end of Seneca Lake, there is at least one other timeless reason. If you truly respect the value of history then you know it is almost as important to revisit the past, as it is to participate in the present. And what better place to do both at the same time than in Watkins Glen?
If you are planning to go to the races, try to set aside one day to visit the place where the history of motor racing especially sports car racing - resides for all time. That place is the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen.
Phil McCray is the Curator and Director of the Center. He, along with his primary staff of Mark Steigerwald (Reference Librarian), Jon Beckman (Corporate Development Director), Glenda Gephart (Community Relations Director and Publications Editor) and Bill Green (Historian), have embraced the challenge of preserving the past for future generations to review.
The entire staff applies their energies to honoring the memory of the people and cars and events of days gone by through a strong commitment to carrying out the Center's mission:
"The mission of the Motor Racing Research Center is to be the world-class leader in the collection of materials representing the documentary heritage of amateur and professional motor racing, highlighting Sports Car, Formula 1, NASCAR, and Vintage and Historic Racing. Operating according to professional standards of preservation and bibliographic cataloguing, the library is open to all for primary research, offers reference and other public services, and makes the wealth of gathered information available worldwide through computer technology."
The center is in a little brown brick building that sits one block off the main road, at 610 South Decatur Street. Half the building houses the town library and the other half is home to the history of motor racing. You can come out of either end a lot smarter than when you went in. I went in and came out on the same end, and I thought I was pretty smart for doing so.
I have been fortunate to visit the library twice. The second visit came on the Thursday before the 2000 running of the 6 Hours of the Glen. I stopped in to say hi again to Phil McCray, who I had met and interviewed on my first trip, and to meet Glenda Gephardt for the first time. She was kind enough to spend time telling me about some of the ways the library and the community interacts. One example is the tours she conducts for young school children that come to the center (formerly called the Watkins Glen Motor Racing Research Library) to learn about the importance of preserving history, regardless of the subject. Of course, it doesn't hurt any that the kids get to see colorful posters and pictures (movies too!) of racing cars.
One thing I know for sure, it didn't hurt this big kid one bit to have to look at the painting of the Grand Prix Lotus, or the posters from the Can-Am and Manufacturers Championships of the late 1960's and early 1970's. No, this fascinated man-child just soaked up all the passion and memories contained within these hallowed walls.
And on that special Thursday, in walked the man credited with bringing a real sense of organization to the new sport of road racing. Cameron Argetsinger, someone who I never thought I would ever meet, was extending his hand to me! I could not believe it. Here I was, enjoying the inert forms of history the books, posters, paintings and photos all around me when I found myself conversing with living history!
We had a pleasant conversation about the beginnings of the sport and how he and others persuaded the town elders to sanction a motorcar race in the streets. We talked about the growth of the sport and how much had changed. And I just took it all in while feeling very lucky to have been in that place at that time.
Too soon our conversation was interrupted by voices that informed us that the magnificent red Allard sitting in the middle of the library had to be rolled out into the parking lot. The car was the centerpiece attraction in the library and now it was needed at the race circuit to be part of the special Grand Am "Milestones" exhibit that was being set up for the race weekend.
In a matter of moments, I was on the 'pit crew', helping to push the car out the front entrance while Cameron Argetsinger steered it clear of the doors. Soon I was pushing the car, along with the rest of the pit crew - Cameron's sons Michael and J.C. - to get it started. Sure enough the old gal fired right up and J.C. took it out for a spin around the parking lot.
What a sight! What a memory. What a wonderful place to be.
Having this kind of memorable day is what a visit to the center is all about. You may not be as fortunate as I was, to have Cameron Argetsinger there in person to tell you how it all began, but you can be there where it all lives on for future generations to enjoy. Books and films and paintings and papers and photos and more are all housed there for researchers and curious fans to enjoy.
And who knows, maybe when you are there, gently turning the pages of a copy of "Speed With Style" - the autobiography of Peter Revson, or "The Last Season" the story of Bruce McLaren, maybe a James Weaver or a Jack Baldwin might stop in too. Wouldn't that be the icing on the cake? Wouldn't that be a memory to savor?
I urge you to visit the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen. You will always remember it as time well spent.
You can learn more about the center by visiting their web site at www.racingarchives.org. You can also help support the non-profit work they do there by becoming a sponsor. Several levels are open to all and all are welcome to help at any level. Call the center at 607-535-9044 for directions and hours. There is no admission charge.
PS As I looked at the photos on the walls in the movie viewing area, I had to do a double take! There is a photo of Jim Hall and Jackie Stewart talking in the pits at the 1970 Glen Can-Am. This is the race at which the 'vacuum cleaner car', the Chaparral 2J, made it's debut. I was at the track for that event, and I can prove it, courtesy of that photo. Standing just behind Jackie's left shoulder are two 19-year-old longhaired kids with sideburns and big smiles. One of those kids was my friend Fred Robyn. The other one was his friend, ASH!